Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The peaceful, orderly transfer of political power is a hallmark of a mature democracy, occurring every year at various levels of government. In nearly every instance, it has become uneventful and routine; however, several transfers of power in the history of the Keystone State have been prompted by unusual circumstances. Since the creation of the office of governor, as required by Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of 1790 (the Constitution of 1776 called for executive power to be vested in a president and council), there have only been four instances where the reins of government have changed hands prior to the time established by the constitutions for expiration of a governor’s term of office. The first time a governor left office prior to the expiration of his term was July 9, 1848, when Governor Francis Rawn Shunk resigned because of poor health. (He died eleven days later.) Under Arti­cle II, Section 14, of the Constitution of 1838, the speaker of the senate exercised executive powers for the Commonwealth until a new governor was seated.

Nearly a century would pass until another governor resigned, and the circumstances surrounding this transfer were markedly different. In January 1947, Governor Edward Martin, nearing the end of his term, had been elected to the United States Senate. Concerned that he would lose seniority during the period between the swearing in of new senators and his official date for retiring as governor, which would adversely affect his ability to represent the Commonwealth, he decided to resign his office on January 2, 1947. As directed by Article IV, Section 13, of the Constitution of 1874, he was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor John C. Bell, who served as chief executive for nineteen days, from January 2 through January 21, when Governor-elect James H. Duff was inaugurated. No earlier inauguration was permissible under the Constitution.

In recent years, Pennsylvania has experienced two subsequent transfers of gubernatorial power, one temporary and the other permanent. In contrast to the 1874 Constitution, the Constitution of 1968 separates a governor’s disability from his death, removal, or resignation. If disability occurs, the lieutenant governor receives the governor’s powers and duties, but not the title.

On June 13, 1993, Governor Robert P. Casey invoked Article N, Section 13, under the Constitution of 1968 and notified the state legislature that he would be temporarily unable to fulfill his duties because of his health. Lieutenant Governor Mark S. Singel became acting governor until December 21, 1993, when Casey resumed his duties.

The most recent transfer of gubernato­rial power was a direct result of the tragedy of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (see “Executive Director’s Message,” Winter 2001). In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush established the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. Created to ensure that the country’s response to subsequent threats to the American people would not suffer as a result of a lack of preparedness, the difficult task of coordinating such a multi-agency effort was offered to Governor Tom Ridge. In his letter of resignation, Governor Ridge wrote that he accepted the appointment “with vigor and enthusiasm,” but acknowledged “it has been difficult … to accept the necessity of resigning this office.” He noted that “serving as the Governor of Pennsylvania has been the greatest privilege of my professional life.” On Friday, October 5, Ridge officially resigned and Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker became governor.

Readers can learn more about Pennsylvania and its government by visiting the Pennsylvania State Archives and inspecting the official records created by its elected officers. Included among the holdings of the State Archives are extensive collections of the official files of most twentieth-century governors of Pennsylvania. These collections are especially important to researchers for understanding the leadership role of the office of the governor and appreciating the major policy issues of the day.